An all-star brawler, refined
Last year's Dissidia Final Fantasy was a very unique take on brawlers from Square-Enix - the blend of over the top, Advent Children-esque battles with a layered and deep RPG character building system, tied with the fanservice-laden story was one of the PSP's biggest titles in a long time. Its sequel, the verbosely titled Dissida 012 [Duodecim]: Final Fantasy, offers little in terms of change from this format outside of a new campaign and several new characters to fight with, but it is a solid refinement of the original's unique and interesting gameplay.
The story of Duodecim, as the unpronounced '012' in its title implies, focuses on the Twelfth cycle of war between Cosmos, the Goddess of Harmony, and Chaos, the God of Discord (Thus making this a prequel to the original game, which showcased the events of the Thirteenth cycle). The two gods wage war with each other by calling upon famous heroes and villains from across the main Final Fantasy series, from Garland and The Warrior of Light, to Gabranth and new addition Lightning. The story mode of Duodecim follows Lightning and the other characters new to the game - Final Fantasy IV's Kain, V's Gilgamesh, VII's Tifa, VIII's Laguna, X's Yuna, XI's Prishe and XII's Vaan - and their quests to fight Chaos and his warriors, and also offers reasons for their disappearance in the next cycle. Like many fighting games before it, Duodecim's story is hardly anything to write home about. While there are interesting moments of seeing how characters from different games in the franchise will interact with each other (Lightning's stoic, no-nonsense attitude often means she clashes with the rest of the Warriors of Cosmos - a.k.a, the heroes), it is largely convoluted plot threads glued together with generous heaps of fanservice, and rather than focusing on telling a solid story, is merely there as an excuse to gather the heroes and villains together to duke it out. As a plus, the Story progression has been changed from the original game's 'chessboard' style of movement, in favour of a more traditional 'World Map' for your party of characters to roam around and fight enemies (although the chessboard layout does survive in the game's dungeons, dotted around the world map for the player to explore and find items to equip), and, upon completion of the new - and still rather lengthy, clocking in at about 45 to 50 hours - Duodecim campaign, the entirety of the first game's story mode is unlocked, remade with the new changes and refinements, in itself adding another good 50+ hours of extra game, meaning that for the dedicated player, Duodecim can easily stay in your PSP for over 100 hours.
Once again, Square-Enix have bought their presentational A-game to the PSP, bringing another gorgeous looking title to the platform. Whilst the stages themselves can be a little bland and flat, Character models (based on designs drawn by Tetsuya Nomura, and in some cases of alternate costumes, inspired by the series' famous artwork by Yoshitaka Amano) are some of the best looking on the platform, rich with detail. Duodecim's 'EX attacks', the game's answer to other Fighting game's supercombo moves, are visually stunning as well, recreating character's Limit breaks from their own game with style and aplomb - Duodecim is an absolute delight to watch sometimes, with characters dancing about the screen and initiating over the top, stylish special moves almost nonstop. Voice acting for each character can be a little hit and miss, however most actors turn in admirable performances given the some times excruciating script. Takeharu Ishimoto's rearrangement of classic Final Fantasy pieces once again shines, the soundtrack (which includes all of the original Dissidia's music as well) is laden with great remixes of classics like The battle music from Final Fantasy VI, as well as tracks from more recent games such as XIII's Battle theme, Blinded by Light. Final Fantasy XI is finally given more well deserved audio time too featuring the original versions of pieces like Ronfaure and Heaven's Tower, as well a great remix of A Realm of Emptiness. With Square-Enix's promise of extra music tracks coming later on in the form of DLC, I can't wait to see what Ishimoto does with some of the FF series musical gems.
Dissidia Duodecim is once again another solid entry into Square-Enix's fantastic library for the PSP. With enough changes, tweaks and additions to the original's layered formula to keep it feeling fresh, and enough content to more than quantify the price tag, the game's storytelling flaws can easily be forgiven. If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, or a fan of fighting games, or someone who just wants to show a little love for the PSP in it's twilight years before the arrival of the NGP, Duodecim is an essential title to pick up.